Hollywood Foreign Press Association under fire over lack of racial diversity, membership ethics: Industry powerhouses boycott HFPA; NBC cancels 2022 Golden Globe Awards

May 11, 2021

by Jamie Garrett

(Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC)

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the group behind the Golden Globe Awards, is experiencing more fallout for how the group is responding to its lack of racial diversity and ethics guidelines. On May 11, 2021, NBC (the longtime U.S. network for the Golden Globe Awards) announced that it would not be televising the 2022 Golden Globe Awards, which would have been the 79th annual ceremony. Because of this massive blow to the ceremony, the Golden Globe Awards (an award show for movies and television) won’t be expected to take place in 2022.

NBC’s announcement came just days after Netflix, Amazon, WarnerMedia revealed that they would be boycotting the HFPA because they say that the HFPA’s plans to diversify its membership don’t go far enough. In addition, several actors (including Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo) have taken public steps to distance themselves from the Golden Globe Awards, with Johansson and Ruffalo urging others to do the same. On May 11, 2021, Cruise went as far as returning his three Golden Globe Awards to the HFPA.

As of this writing, the HFPA currently has about 86 members, who are the people who vote for the Golden Globe nominations and awards. On May 3, 2021, the HFPA announced that the majority of its membership voted for sweeping changes that would include increasing HFPA membership by 20 people in 2021, with an emphasis on recruiting at least 13 qualified black journalists in this group of new members. The HFPA also said that it plans to increase it membership by 50% in 2022, with an emphasis on having more members from underrespresented groups. The HFPA reforms also include plans to hire a chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer, to help oversee this process.

The HFPA, which launched in 1944, is a non-profit group of U.S.-based journalists who work for media outlets that are not based in the United States. Under its new reforms, the HFPA also pledged to make it easier to join the group, by eliminating rules requiring HFPA members to live in Southern California. Also elminated is the requirement that potential new HFPA members have a recommendation from an existing HFPA member in order to join the HFPA.

The revised eligibility rules were changed so that any journalists living in the U.S. who work for media outlets based outside the U.S. could be eilgible for HFPA membership. However, the HFPA still came under fire because the new reforms do not fully address diversity issues for the HFPA’s leadership positions, nor do the reforms fully address specific concerns in how the HFPA handles its funding and donations.

NBC released this statement about the decision to cut ties with the 2022 Golden Globe Awards: “We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right. As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes. Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globe Awards ceremony for television, has not yet commented on the company’s television plans for the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony, which seems likely to be cancelled. The HFPA reportedly received $60 mllion from NBC to license the rights to televise the Golden Globe Awards in 2021. But because of the controversy over the HFPA, no major network is going to televise the show in 2022, and too many of Hollywood’s major players have distanced themselves from the HFPA and the Golden Globe Awards for there to be enough star power if the ceremony happened in 2022.

It remains to be seen if the Golden Globe Awards will be revived in 2023. According to Nielsen Media Research, ratings for the 2021 Golden Globe Awards were at an all-time low for NBC, at 6.9 million U.S viewers. That’s a 68% decrease from the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, which had 18.3 million U.S. viewers. Ratings for all televised awards shows, which were already declining in the late 2010s, have been having experiencing record lows in the COVID-19 pandemic era.

The HFPA has long had its share of controversies and criticisms for its secretive membership; its reputation for HFPA members unethically accepting high-priced gifts and money from studios, filmmakers and publicists; and questionable Golden Globe nominations. However, this is the first time that any criticism of the HFPA has resulted in a widespread boycott of the HFPA by the entertainment industry.

However, it’s not the first time that NBC has stepped away from the Golden Globe Awards. NBC began televising the show locally in Los Angeles in 1958, and then nationally in 1964. But from 1969 to 1972, NBC dropped the Golden Globe Awards, over Federal Comminications Commission complaints that the HFPA was not transparent enough about its voting policies. After the HFPA made the requested changes, Metromedia then televised the Golden Globe Awards from 1973 to 1977. NBC picked up the show again in 1978. The Golden Globes were not televised in 1979. And then from 1980 to 1995, the Golden Globes had various TV partners, including CBS, TBS and being in syndication. NBC resumed televising the Golden Globe Awards in 1996.

The massive backlash against the HFPA began on February 21, 2021, when the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report that revealed the HFPA had unethical financial practices and a long history of excluding black people from its membership. Variety reported on February 26 that the HFPA hasn’t had any black members since 2002. More than 100 celebrity publicity firms pledged to withhold their clients from future Golden Gloeb Awards and other HFPA events unless the HFPA made drastic improvements to its racial diversity, ethics policies and codes of conduct. The social justice activist group Time’s Up has also condemned the HFPA for not doing enough to implement changes.

Since then, former HFPA president Phil Berk, a white man originally from South Africa, was expelled from the HFPA for sending an email with racist comments to certain HFPA members on April 18, 2021. In the email, Berk endorsed an article stating that Black Lives Matter is a “racist hate movement,” and he called Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrice Cullors “the self-proclaimed ‘trained Marxist.'” After this email went public, HFPA diversity strategist Shaun Harper quit after just one month on the job. Around the same time, crisis management firm Smith & Company (whose president/CEO Judy Smith was the inspiration of the Olivia Pope character in “Scandal”) also severed ties with the HFPA after a brief stint working with the HFPA.

With much of the entertainment industry backing away from the HFPA, it is unknown if the HFPA will survive this huge blow to its reputation and revenue. The HFPA’s problems with racial diversity and mishandling of funds have reportedly existed for decades, but the reckoning happened only after the media exposed these problems.

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